The following obituary was written by former Surrey Constabulary Police Dog Inspector, Stan ‘Timber’ Wood. Many years of a close working relationship together with the friendship enjoyed by Timber with Bob are self evident in the following words: -
Obituary in memory of Robert G. Collins
‘Bob’ Collins died peacefully in his sleep on Friday, 14th June at 3.15am at The Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford, he had been suffering from cancer for several years. He was 88 years old.
Before talking about Bob, it occurs to me that readers may be interested in the small Saddlers and Leatherwork shop that had existed at 42 Recreation Road, Guildford, since around 1920.
This establishment was started by Bob’s father Jesse and the workshop was built before the house. About 1920, Jesse had the house built and then showed it to his wife to be, when she approved, they married. Two sons were born, Bob was the youngest, born I believe in 1925.
In the early days business was mainly horse tack and the making of coal sacks.
When Bob left school he went to work for his father until he was called up in the latter part of World War 2. As he had experience in horse harness etc he was put in The Royal Veterinary Corps. He was demobbed in 1947 and returned to working with his father.
On the formation of the Surrey Constabulary Dog Section in 1947 and the transfer of Sergeant Harry Darbyshire from the Metropolitan Police to Surrey to establish the Section, equipment was a major problem. Harry had some leads, tracking harnesses etc, made I believe in Germany but the problem was where he could get the same made in the UK. He discovered on his doorstep Jesse Collins Esq. Saddlemaker. It was from here that the making of police dog equipment started, and very soon handlers coming to the Dog School at Guildford were issued with their equipment made by Jesse and Bob Collins.
As the years rolled by more and more equipment was hand made in this workshop and many Police Forces from all over the UK dealt directly with the Collins Shop, the Surrey Constabulary being the main client.
In 1966, Jesse died aged 80 years, virtually working to the end. Young Bob then took over and the high standard work continued. In the same year Kath, Bob’s wife gave birth to their only son Robin. Both husband and wife worked in the shop and from the very beginning young Robin was to be found in his cot in the workshop.
Of course making equipment was one thing but there was breakage and wear and tear in use and dog handlers found it easy to just call and see Bob and a cheerful repair was done.
Bob had become well known in this work and many members of the public would call for all sorts of jobs, repairs and new dog equipment. He was also used by The Surrey Force for any repairs etc that were required and for a long time all officers were issued with large leather wallets to hold documents, at times piles of these would appear for the odd stitch etc.
The Dog Section without a doubt was his ‘number one’ as was the Surrey Constabulary. Everything stopped when Surrey needed something.
Bob was also a dab hand at a bit or carpentry and he was responsible for building many dog obstacles for me. He purchased the wood and built the obstacle. The Force paid for the wood but he refused point blank to charge for his hours. The powers to be never knew of this sort of thing going on. At one time in the 1980’s we decided to build a new training compound in the corner of the sports field. Who was in charge of the erection and building of a new gate plus making the equipment therein? I will leave you to guess but there was no charge, only for the material.
Another typical example of this man and his love for ‘The Force’ was around the time of the miners’ strike. Supt. Peter Wickens, my boss at the time, called me into his office with a problem. Some of the equipment issued to the men to go on the picket line was very inferior and Peter wanted something better and stronger. I took the samples and went to see Bob. It was a Good Friday and the gates were locked for the weekend. Having scaled the gate I found Bob still busy in the workshop. I showed him the problem and he immediately set about making new gear from hand stitched leather. How many were made I cannot remember but on the Tuesday morning after Easter he appeared at Mount Browne with all the gear required. He had worked all weekend to make sure his Surrey Men were equipped. That was the man.
Bob was a lover of the Dog Section and during my ten years in charge he donated anonymously cash prizes for the first three handlers in the annual Surrey Police Dog Competition. The conditions were that he would not present the prizes and nobody was to know where the prize money had come from.
This man was unbelievable, he wanted no fuss or attention and the only thing I argued with him about was the price he charged for the goods he made. He was far too cheap for his own good both while I was in the Force and for nearly thirty years after I would nag my old friend to charge realistic fees. He refused.
This man has served the Police Dog Section from its very beginning up until days before his death. Over 65 years. What a record!!
Bob continued to work a full day sometimes six days a week right to the end.
What a lovely, lovely man, he deserves all the plaudits that he gets.
On Wednesday 25th March 2009 at Guildford Cathedral, former Surrey Chief Constable, Mark Rowley, awarded Bob a Chief Constable’s Commendation for over 60 years of service to the Surrey Police. That was the very least that he deserved.
A report of this award ceremony was carried in the Surrey Advertiser, (click this link), and the following is an extract from that report: -
‘Bob Collins, who has made leather equipment for police dogs at his workshop in Recreation Road since 1938, was also given a chief constable’s commendation.
“This is the only job I have ever had, it is a family trade. I still do 10 hours days, but it is a privilege to work for the police,” said Mr Collins.’
God Bless you Bob, you can put the needle down now.
The business has been officially in the hands of Bob’s son Robin for several years now, although you always knew that Bob was there.